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Fast Break 1.5: Misery at the Garden, Drama in Cleveland and Anticipation for Toronto

smith

The New Year has come and gone. Two months of the NBA season are behind us and the push towards the All-Star Game in Toronto becomes real. Following the Cleveland Cavaliers feels like watching ‘Days Of Our Lives’ and Phil Jackson probably wishes he could get Shaquille O’Neal to suit up for the Knicks. Time to run another Fast Break.

The Triangle Doesn’t Look Very Sharp

Coming into the season, the New York Knicks had high expectations for the team. Phil Jackson was headed into his first full season as Team President. Considered by many to be the best coach in NBA history, Jackson was being praised as the saviour of the franchise. Knicks fans had an up-close and personal seat to his coaching when the 1990’s Chicago Bulls were torching their team. They figured he would be able bring some his magic to Madison Square Garden.

Many analysts considered the Knicks offseason successful thanks to the fact that they re-signed Carmelo Anthony to a maximum contract after he briefly flirted with the Bulls. Jackson also brought in first-time head coach Derek Fisher and traded center Tyson Chandler for two role players (Jose Calderon and Samuel Dalembert). It turned out all those anyalysts were way off because the Knicks are sitting at 5-29, a franchise worst start to a season.

The Triangle Offense doesn’t fit this team. Carmelo Anthony is a ball-stopper who feels the needs to play one-on-one. It’s obvious that he has no trust in his teammates because he often breaks away from the offense. The guy isn’t a superstar that you can build a championship team around. He will never be considered a winner until he is willing to accept a lesser role and focus more on fundamentals and defense.

It would help if he had someone to play alongside of. Jose Calderon is a journeyman who’s only skill is passing the ball, Tim Hardaway Jr. is a couple of years away, Amare Stoudemire is washed up, Samuel Dalembert has seen better days and JR Smith is a chucker who has no basketball intelligence.

I don’t know why Phil Jackson would trade his best interior defender (Chandler) other than seeing a difference in the Owner James Dolan’s bank account.

Luckily for New York fans, the Knicks will have a lot of money coming off the books this offseason. They will have $20.8 million in projected cap space to spend this summer. Even though the Knicks haven’t done anything meaningful since the 1999 NBA Finals, some players will still be interested in signing with them. It is still the Big Apple and that gives their fans hope.

Hindsight is 20/20, but if the Knicks would have been smart they may have been able to work out a sign-and-trade involving Anthony and Bulls guard Jimmy Butler. Butler has blown up this season (21.9 PPG, 6.2 RPG) and is probably headed to up north for the All-Star game.

He would have been a nicer piece moving forward and plays the defense that Melo lacks. There are already rumors of Orlando Magic forward Tobias Harris (18.5 PPG, 7.0 RPG) wanting to sign with his hometown Knicks when free agency starts. That could have been a hell of a start towards something successful.

Losers of nine straight, the Knicks are heading nowhere fast. Derek Fisher might be out of a job after one year. If he wasn’t connected to Phil, he would be on his way out right now. Phil and Fish will tell you it’ll take some time and I can’t argue that point. Not with what they have right now.

Kevin Garnett is a nice guy... I promise.
Kevin Garnett is a nice guy… I promise.

Kevin Garnett; Best Trash Talker In NBA History?

In the next borough over, the Brooklyn Nets aren’t looking too much better than the Knicks. They are actually in the playoff hunt at 16-17, but their team is unappealing. With former All-Stars Deron Williams and Joe Johnson leading the way, this team would be interesting in 2008, but at the moment they seem stale. Only two things have caught my eye in Brooklyn in 2014. The first is the emergence of second year center Mason Plumlee (18.2 PPG, 9.6 RPG over the past 11 games) while the second is Kevin Garnett bringing some entertainment to the bland Nets games.

Known as ‘The Big Ticket’, he has always given the fans a show but now that he’s on his last legs (7.5 PPG, 7.6 RPG), he has to be more creative to keep people interested in him. KG has never been considered a shy guy and that why he’s one of the best trash talkers I have seen since I’ve been a fan.

A lot of people think he crosses the line with the shit he pulls. Back in 2008, he got on his hands and knees, barking like a dog at Jerryd Bayless as he brought the ball up the court. In a game against the Knicks last year, he told Carmelo Anthony that his wife “tastes like Honey Nut Cheerios”. Earlier this season, he tried to bite Bulls center Joakim Noah’s hand.

Garnett was at again this week when he decided to pull a Lance Stephenson and blow in Indiana Pacers forward David West’s ear. West didn’t seem to appreciate the gesture and got in Garnett’s face.

Personally, I like some of the things that KG does. If I were in the opposing player’s shoes, it would piss me off but as a fan he keeps me laughing. He may be the best trash talker of all-time, up there with Michael Jordan and Gary Payton, considering how successful he is at getting in player’s heads.

Garnett will probably be out of the league after this season. I’m going to miss watching him play when he finally does hang it up. During the mid-2000’s, there was no forward I would have rather had. He has a great passion for the game and plays with intensity. Not only that, but the man can play ball (2004 NBA MVP, 18.4 PPG, 10.3 RPG career averages). I hope he has a few more of these moments left in him before he’s gone.

The media wants you to believe LeBron James and David Blatt may be headlining WrestleMania.
The media wants you to believe LeBron James and David Blatt may be headlining WrestleMania.

More Dysfunction In Cleveland

The media can never get enough of LeBron James. Even though he has played in 410 NBA games (that’s not counting the 2012 London Summer Olympics and any preseason games), analysts are throwing out the idea that he’s not the best player in the league. In his second stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers, he is averaging 25.2 PPG, 7.6 APG and 5.2 RPG. Those numbers aren’t too shabby. At the same time, he is trying to learn to play with a new team. Over the summer, the entire Cleveland roster got flipped upside down quicker than a pancake.

This reminds of 2010 all over again. James made the move to the Miami Heat and the media were all up their asses. His first year on that squad he put up averages of 26.7 PPG, 7.0 APG and 7.6 RPG. There’s not that big of a difference when you compare those two stat lines. That year the Miami Heat started slow (9-8) just like this year’s Cavs. It is taking Cleveland a little longer to get it together (18-14), but that Heat team had more talent to work with.

Another similarity is the whole story involving Head Coach David Blatt and LeBron James. In 2010, there were very similar stories of friction between James and Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. According to sources, James doesn’t believe in Blatt and his messages are falling on deaf ears with the rest of the team as well.

Everything that involves LeBron James is overblown. He is still the best player on the planet and almost anyone would take him over any other player in the league. This team will be fine. The Eastern Conference is weak and there’s really only four teams that may have a shot (Raptors, Wizards, Bulls and Cavaliers). They probably won’t win a championship in year one thanks to the fact that the West is so tough. The team is a work in progress and there will be no shortage of LeBron James headlines when he is playing in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Drake and his lint roller will be at the All-Star Game in Toronto.
Drake and his lint roller will be at the All-Star Game in Toronto.

And The Votes Are In…

Yesterday, the second return of All-Star votes came in from the fans. So far they have LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade, Chicago Bulls forward Pau Gasol and Washington Wizards guard John Wall representing the East. Out West, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin, New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis and Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol are the leading vote-getters.

I think the fans have it about half-right. Anthony Davis, John Wall and Steph Curry are getting the respect that they are due. They are three of the best players at their positions and have been solid all season long. You can’t argue against LeBron James, he’s a given. It makes me happy that the Gasol brothers are being looked at. I really thought the fans might skip over them. Both have been huge for their teams so far.

You can make a case for Kobe Bryant. He is putting up huge scoring numbers (24.4 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 5.2 APG) but his team is terrible. Los Angeles is the second-largest market in the nation, so he won’t be giving up his spot despite the Lakers struggles. The fact that he is one of the most well-known players in the league, and being Jeremy Lin’s teammate, means guys in China will be voting for him too. Personally, I would rather see Russell Westbrook take his place (27.6 PPG, 7.2 APG, 5.6 RPG). He has missed 14 games but he’s been incredible in the games he has played. By the time the All-Star game rolls around, he will have enough games to qualify.

Dwyane Wade should be replaced with Jimmy Butler. Wade is still putting up a nice stat line (23.2 PPG, 5.2 APG, 3.7 RPG) but the Heat are 14-19. Butler has been consistent all year and he doesn’t take nights off for rest. The Bulls 23-10 record is what convinces me that Wade should pass the torch.

While Blake Griffin has had some big games, his rebounding is down (22.6 PPG, 7.8 RPG). If the fans would look up north from California, they would see a forward a little more deserving. LaMarcus Aldridge (22.9 PPG, 10.7 RPG) has been a rock for the Portland Trailblazers. He is consistent night in, night out. Besides Anthony Davis, he has to be the best power forward in the game. Portland is also doing it in the win column with a 26-7 record, second in the West.

As long as the fans continue to vote the starters for the All-Star game, we’re never going to get the correct lineup. Someone suggested to me that the NBA switch the rules to where the fans get one or two roster spots to pick and we let the coaches determine who starts the game. If they did it that way then the fans would still get to make choices like Allen Iverson in 2010 (25 games played), Yao Ming in 2011 (5 GP) and Kobe Bryant last year (6 GP). When you open up the contest to casual fans, you turn it into a popularity contest and deserving players get left out. If these lineups hold up, I can live with that but it’s only a matter of time before another injured player or past his prime star gets selected.

drummond

Cold-Blooded Player: Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons

17.6 PPG, 15.0 RPG, 3.0 BPG, 65% FG, 3-0 Team Record (December 25, 2014 – January 1, 2015)

Two weeks ago the Detroit Pistons were hopeless and looking forward to the offseason. They were sitting at 5-23 when they finally made the choice to let Josh Smith walk out the door for good. Ever since President and Coach Stan Van Gundy made that decision, the Pistons have managed to win every game.

Andre Drummond has been the biggest reason for the wins. He has absolutely controlled the paint the past three games. Coming into the season, the Pistons were hoping for Drummond to have a huge year. He started the season slowly, posting a sub-.500 shooting percentage through the first month. Van Gundy was trying to teach the big man to play with his back to the basket and he seemed unsure of what to do when he wasn’t facing the hoop. He picked his game up in December by controlling the glass (three 20 rebound games) and not being as tentative when making a move. He is using his explosiveness to his advantage, making quick decisions on his way to the hoop.

Detroit is better without Smith moving forward. They are only 5 games out of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference and could have a real chance of making a playoff push. The conference is inconsistent and 35 wins may get you into the Playoffs. As long as Drummond keeps playing like the best center in East, they will have as good of a shot as anyone.

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